Thursday, April 29, 2010

Really? I mean , really?!

Join me in singing . . . "It's the most wonderful time of the year".  Yes, that's right boys and girls, it's high stakes testing time so that all our legislators, talking heads, and other people looking for a false sense of security or superiority can feel better about how things are going.  It's the festival of Testivus.  To properly celebrate this festive ritual, we, your hard working test taking guides, I mean teachers, are being thoroughly trained so that we don't mess up.  One of my favorite rituals associated with this time of the year is going through the testing code of ethics.  It's a wonderful piece of holiday folklore that gets retold every year during Testivus.  You can read the entire myth here.  I would like to highlight my favorite parts.

This part of the myth explains why we celebrate Testivus:

In North Carolina, standardized testing is an integral part of the educational experience of all students. When properly administered and interpreted, test results provide an independent, uniform source of reliable and valid information, which enables:
• students to know the extent to which they have mastered expected knowledge and skills and how they compare to others;
• parents to know if their children are acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a highly competitive job market;
• teachers to know if their students have mastered grade-level knowledge and skills in the curriculum and, if not, what weaknesses need to be addressed;
• community leaders and lawmakers to know if students in North Carolina schools are improving their performance over time and how the students compare with students from other states or the nation; and
• citizens to assess the performance of the public schools.
I'm so glad that Testivus enables us to know whether or not our students are acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills.  Unfortunately, with the secularization of Testivus, the real meaning has been lost.  Our shallow celebrations of Testivus in today's modern era have been reduced to regurgitation of factoids, what some call "content".  Real skill assessment has been totally removed from Testivus, as evidenced by legislative actions that have mandated the removal of these "religious" aspects of the holiday.

As part of the ritualistic preparation for Testivus, we, the test-taking guides, must meet all the following ethical guidelines:

Teachers shall provide instruction that meets or exceeds the standard course of study to meet the needs of the specific students in the class. Teachers may help students improve test-taking skills by:
(A) helping students become familiar with test formats using curricular content;
(B) teaching students test-taking strategies and providing practice sessions;
(C) helping students learn ways of preparing to take tests; and
(D) using resource materials such as test questions from test item banks, testlets and linking documents in instruction and test preparation.
Part of the joy in helping students celebrate Testivus is doing all the above.  At least it is supposed to be.  Unfortunately, I feel like I am violating the sacredness of Testivus when I practice the secular, meaningless, aspects above.  In the past I felt like I needed a month of ritual purification after doing such.

Fortunately, the Testivus fun does not have to end when the last test is administered and the last bubble filled in.  Christmas has Boxing Day and Testivus has Remediation!  In NC, we are required to provide 5 hours of remediation to every student who fails, oops, I mean, only scores a 1 or 2, on the test, then allow them to retake the test.  So for those lucky select few, they get to endure 5 hours of intense test taking practice in one shot, not long after finishing one celebration and right before taking part in another.  Those who are REALLY lucky get 2 DAYS of remediation if they don't score high enough on both parts (reading AND math).

So, in this most sacred time of the school year, my prayer for you is that your classroom is filled with the joy of Testivus.  And for those of you, like me, who find reasonable doubt in the myth of Testivus, join me in saying, "Really?  I mean, really?!"